“Must have blood to reveal the truth”
In the best of worlds, airing a season finale without the show’s main character and star is not an ideal situation, but there it is. Nevertheless, Van Helsing makes the best of the situation and relies heavily on Missy Peregrym, Andee Frizzell, and Paul Johansson to carry the load as the long awaited confrontation with the Elder finally arrives. While “Black Days” offers some interesting twists relevant to the Van Helsing family history, some of the season’s final chapter feels forced. In spite of that, showrunner Neil LaBute’s script manages to eventually right the ship and chart an intriguing path for the next stage of his vampire drama.
Structurally, “Black Days” takes a simple, yet effective, parallel approach as it follows two groups on their way to find the Elder, albeit with different end games in mind. Abigail (Andee Frizzell) uses the journey to impart some family history to her daughter Scarlett (Missy Peregrym) with varying degrees of success. There’s not been much of a chance for these two to get to know each other, and we don’t really feel a strong emotional connection as they crawl through the tunnels on their journey to the Elder. Abigail throws out some tidbits about Scarlett’s great grandmother and stories associated with the cave, but while her attempt to justify the abandonment of her two daughters sounds coldly clinical, it does make sense.
Without the knowledge that Abigail possesses, Dmitri (Paul Johansson) enlists the aid of The Sisterhood and the Oracle (Jesse Stanley) to guide him to the Elder, but it’s the initial scene in which he refuses to kneel before the one that will help him, that sets the stage for his swan song at the hands of the one they all seek. And while it’s not necessarily his arrogance that does him in, he once again underestimates the Van Helsing clan and suffers a gruesome death in the end.
As a narrative device, the visions generated by the cave present some rather engaging backstory details, and learning that Dmitri stood by the side of the Marquis de Sade, while tantalizing, also reveals a significant facet that could impact the events of next season. A pupil of de Sade, we see Dmitri eventually turned by the Elder, and witness the seeds of his obsession with his sister Antanasia, all of which gives substance to the newest foe facing the Van Helsing sisters and mankind. While it may at first seem the visions of Scarlett and Vanessa’s childhood simply rehash what we already know, the single scene in which Harrison recognizes the girls’ power, highlights the point at which Abigail knows she must take drastic measures to protect her children.
It’s never made clear who or what generates the visions that test the mettle of the five in the tunnels, but it’s clear each provides clarity for turning points in their lives. The manifestations experienced by Scab and Ivory (Jennifer Cheon) tell fascinating and compelling tales, though how much these stories will add to the overall arc remains a question. Learning that Scab, (Rowland Pidlubny) or Scott as he was known in his pre-vampire days, actually crossed a picket line for work speaks to his desperation at the time. When the company hires him permanently, viewing the ostracization by his fellow workers, opens a window into the loyalty he’s shown Julius and Dmitri. He suffered from some sort of emotional or anxiety driven condition that virtually paralyzes him with fear, and while that still appears to manifest itself through his body movements, he’s clearly found a home. With both Julius and Dmitri he’s been seen as a valued member of the team and accepted for how he aids the greater good. In his case it’s not a stretch to say he’s likely happier and more fulfilled as a vampire than he was when human.
Ivory’s past turns out to be much darker and much more compelling even though we witness only a tiny aspect of her struggles. We glimpse her tied to a stake surrounded by robed monks demanding that she convert to Christianity, and though we don’t learn who or what belief system she adheres to, her plaintive screams as she awaits her fate stand as the most horrific scene of the episode. Unlike Dmitri’s later death at the hands of the Elder, Ivory is the innocent here.
Along the way, amidst Ivory’s screams and Scab’s claustrophobia, Abigail releases a wealth of information to her daughter. It turns out the Elder is only one of many, and the Van Helsings captured this one and imprisoned him to prevent his clan from creating an opening for the Dark One. This Elder then turns out to be only a cog in the machine, while another rung is added to the ladder of evil. Once Scarlett and her mother find the door to the Elder’s chamber, we discover that “only a Van Helsing can open the crypt,” and that a life will be the price to pay. At this point the narrative begins to feel rushed with the dialogue, the dispensing of information, and the new plot twists all coming fast and furiously. But even though we immediately know where this is headed, and Abigail confirms our suspicions by opening the door and releasing the Elder, the scene still works. “Freedom at last.”
The exposition heavy episode finally gives way to an action sequence that finds Dmitri on the sidelines for much of it, but it falls a bit flat owing in part to the dim lighting and the feeling that the character stakes are low. It’s difficult to get excited about a fight to the death when it appears no one in the fight is actually all that vulnerable. Dmitri does find time to restrain Scarlett, but in the end, the revelation that the “blood of the first flows through the sisters’ veins” presents Scarlett and Vanessa in an entirely new light.
Of all the new plot details, this holds the most promise. The Elder was given a choice upon his imprisonment, and he chose fealty to the Van Helsings over death swearing to protect Van Helsing blood until the Dark One is released from its prison or destroyed. All very ominous, but also very cool. As is the moment when Scarlett realizes that the Elder will follow her commands, and she unhesitatingly instructs him to kill Dmitri. We’ve been down this road before in Van Helsing, so it’s encouraging to see her take out her enemy without discussion or explanation. Earlier in the episode she insists her mother tell her where the key was hidden back at The Farm indicating a more vigilant approach than Vanessa displays at BlackTek. In all fairness though, she was trained to think like this while Vanessa was not.
And then there’s the necklace. In and of itself, this is a fascinating addition to the Van Helsing saga. Learning that Abigail too grew up without her mother for much of her life after the Elders killed her explains a lot including the blood filled vial she wears around her neck. The fact that Abigail’s fragmented knowledge of the big picture doesn’t provide Scarlett with all the answers she desires, helps set up the next phase of her daughters’ journey.
So now we know that both Vanessa and Scarlett have the blood of “the first” coursing through their veins which explains the powers and abilities both possess, but perhaps most importantly, raises the question of how the blood got into their systems in the first place. “They are creatures bred under glass,” but by whom? Harrison? Nevertheless, Scarlett’s discovery that she wields control over the Elder sets up an entirely new dynamic, especially in light of the bargain it struck with the Van Helsings when they imprisoned him. The Elder seems a wiley one and will undoubtedly attempt to trick or manipulate the sisters into a situation favorable to his master.
After Dmitri’s death, events begin unfolding rapidly. Scab and Ivory skulk away, and Abigail lies dead after opening the door to release the Elder. “I will never forgive you for this,” the Elder tells Scarlett after he’s killed his favorite on her order, but it creates what might be one of the most captivating plot lines of the series. The Elder is committed to serve and protect the sisters until the Dark One is released or destroyed, so how Vanessa and Scarlett handle their new tool holds the key to the survival of the human race. Following her second order, we see the Elder at BlackTek reviving a supine Vanessa with a bite to the neck, a nice visual call back to the series’ pilot. But what do her red eyes mean, and how long until the sisters reunite?
After a stellar debut, Van Helsing’s sophomore season feels a bit uneven, but “Black Days” does its best to overcome some of this providing a number of narrative possibilities for season three. The challenge now lies in how to bring the characters together for the next phase in the fight to preserve the human race. Hopefully, Scarlett will be a large part of that next phase.